Growing Jesus’ Heart of MERCY (Grace, Compassion and Kindness)

Prayer And Fasting

Prayer And Fasting

The Day of Prayer and Fasting

In the Old Testament, God commanded Israel to observe several set times of fasting. For New Testament believers, fasting was neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible. While early Christians were not required to fast, many practiced prayer and fasting regularly. Jesus himself affirmed in Luke 5:35 that after his death fasting would be appropriate for his followers, (also Matt 6:16 “when”). Spiritual fasting clearly has a place and a purpose for God’s people today.

What is Spiritual Fasting?

In most cases, a spiritual fast involves abstaining from food while focusing on prayer. This can mean refraining from snacks between meals, skipping one or two meals a day, abstaining only from certain foods, or a total fast from all food for an entire day or longer.

For medical reasons, some people may not be able to fast from food altogether. They may choose to abstain only from certain foods, like sugar or chocolate, or from something other than food. In truth, believers can fast from anything. Doing without something temporarily, such as television or soda, as a way of redirecting our focus from earthly things toward God, can also be considered a spiritual fast.

The Purpose of Spiritual Fasting

While many people fast to lose weight, dieting is not the purpose of a spiritual fast. Instead, fasting provides unique spiritual benefits in the life of the believer.

Fasting requires self-control and discipline as one denies the natural desires of the flesh. During spiritual fasting, the believer’s focus is removed from the physical things of this world and intensely concentrated on God. Put differently, fasting directs our hunger toward God. It clears the mind and body of earthly attentions and draws us close to God. So, as we gain spiritual clarity of thought while fasting, it allows us to hear God more clearly. Fasting also demonstrates a profound need for God’s help and guidance through complete dependence upon him.

Does spiritual fasting also help in drawing close to God?

Ezra 8:21, 23 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.  So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

Matt 6:16-18 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Joel 2:12 “Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”

Among the spiritual tools for drawing closer to God, fasting is a real power tool! Fasting is valuable when we are faced with a big problem and we urgently need God’s help. Even when we aren’t faced with big problems, we should fast occasionally as a special form of worship and to draw closer to God. When you sincerely fast, God is pleased and will help you grow spiritually.

What Spiritual Fasting is Not

Spiritual fasting is not a way to earn God’s favor by getting him to do something for us. Rather, the purpose is to produce a transformation in us—a clearer, more focused attention and dependence upon God.

Fasting is never to be a public display of spirituality—it is between you and God alone. In fact, Jesus specifically instructed us in Matthew 6:16-18 to let our fasting be done privately and in humility, else we forfeit the benefits.

Fasting is never a substitute for doing God’s will or being like Jesus as addressed in Isaiah:

Isaiah 58:3-10 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.  Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?  “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter —when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?Then your light will break forth like the dawn,  and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.   Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

Cross references:

  1. Matthew 6:16 : Lev 16:29, 31; 23:27-32; Nu 29:7
  2. Matthew 6:16 : Isa 58:5; Zec 7:5; 8:19
  3. Matthew 6:18 : ver 4, 6

While Old Testament fasting was a sign of mourning, New Testament believers were taught to practice fasting with a cheerful attitude.

Lastly, it should be understood, spiritual fasting is never for the purpose of punishing or harming the body.

More Questions about Spiritual Fasting

How long should I fast?

Fasting, especially from food, should be limited to a determined length of time. Fasting for too long can cause harm to the body.

While I hesitate to state the obvious, your decision to fast should be guided by the Holy Spirit. In addition, I highly recommend, especially if you’ve never fasted, that you seek both medical and spiritual counsel before embarking on any type of prolonged fast. While Jesus and Moses both fasted for 40 days without food and water, this was clearly an impossible human achievement, only accomplished through the Holy Spirit’s empowerment.

(Important Note: Fasting without water is extremely dangerous.)

How often can I fast?

New Testament Christians practiced prayer and fasting regularly. Since there is no biblical command to fast, believers should be led by God through prayer concerning when and how often to fast.

Some Examples of Fasting in the Bible

Old Testament

  • Moses fasted 40 days on behalf of Israel’s sin: Deuteronomy 9:9, 18, 25-29; 10:10.
  • David fasted and mourned the death of Saul: 2 Samuel 1:12.
  • David fasted and mourned the death of Abner: 2 Samuel 3:35.
  • David fasted and mourned the death of his child: 2 Samuel 12:16.
  • Elijah fasted 40 days after fleeing from Jezebel: 1 Kings 19:7-18.
  • Ahab fasted and humbled himself before God: 1 Kings 21:27-29.
  • Darius fasted in concern for Daniel: Daniel 6:18-24.
  • Daniel fasted on behalf of Judah’s sin while reading Jeremiah’s prophecy: Daniel 9:1-19.
  • Daniel fasted regarding a mysterious vision from God: Daniel 10:3-13.
  • Esther fasted on behalf of her people: Esther 4:13-16.
  • Ezra fasted and wept for the sins of the returning remnant: Ezra 10:6-17.
  • Nehemiah fasted and mourned over the broken walls of Jerusalem: Nehemiah 1:4-2:10.
  • The people of Nineveh fasted after hearing the message of Jonah: Jonah 3.

New Testament

  • Anna fasted for the redemption of Jerusalem through the coming of the Christ: Luke 2:36-37
  • Jesus fasted 40 days before his temptation and the beginning of his ministry: Matthew 4:1-11.
  • The disciples of John the Baptist fasted: Matthew 9:14-15.
  • The elders in Antioch fasted before sending off Paul and Barnabas: Acts 13:1-5.
  • Cornelius fasted and sought God’s plan of salvation: Acts 10:30.
  • Paul fasted three days after his Damascas Road encounter: Acts 9:9.
  • Paul fasted 14 days while at sea on a sinking ship: Acts 27:33-34.

The Lord has heard my cry for MERCY; the Lord accepts my prayer.

Psalm 6:9

 

To God Be the Glory

(Editor’s note: Special thanks to Joe Willis for writing this study on Prayer and Fasting!  This is a great quiet time to prepare our mindset as we fast together this Friday June 14th with our brothers and sisters in our movement of churches around the world in preparation for the “Day of Mercy!”  The “Day of Mercy” for the Phoenix church family will be at Sunshine Acres Children’s Home, 3405 North Higley Road, Mesa, AZ 85215, USA.  For more details see the event post here.  Love in Christ, JMC)

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